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Leviathan | Main Ideas



Hobbes postulates that man, born into a natural state, outside of human society, would be in a state of perpetual war or competition. Living in such a state would be terrifying, and life itself would be constantly at risk of being cut short. Without societal laws, there would be no limit to personal freedoms, but there could also be no right or wrong, meaning that there would exist no safety from the actions of others acting in their own self-interest. It is critical to Hobbes's argument that this idea of the "Natural Man" is clearly established so we understand the beneficial imperative of creating the "artificial" social contract.


As natural as man's warring nature is, it is also natural for human beings to desire peace. Hobbes explains that people, being rational, agree to give up some of their natural freedoms in order to avoid the horrors of violent competition. In this effort to ensure peace and longer lives, they establish a social contract that is mutually agreed upon by all members of that society. Hobbes goes a step further to assert that only by giving up some freedoms and agreeing to abide by reason-based laws of a social contract can people be guaranteed a meaningful life and the possibility of a culture.

Civic versus Ecclesiastical Authority

Ecclesiastical authority (the authority of the Church) must, according to Hobbes, be subordinate to civic authority (the authority of a sovereign state) in order to prevent civil wars based on differing interpretations of religious writings. As a person cannot serve two masters, the sovereign of the commonwealth is the only authority to which subjects must be absolutely obedient. In adhering to laws and tenets of faith, one must be sure to also abide by the laws of the state.

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